Saint Maud (2019)

As a UK script consultant I work in every type of genre – as a writer and director, I’m strictly a horror /action type guy. So, by reputation Saint Maud sounded right up my dark end of the street.

On top of it being a horror movie – it was also shot on the east coast of England in Scarborough, just a few miles down the coast from where my directorial debut Markham is set. 

So, before I’d even watched a single frame of the film, I was already pretty much on board.  And then we come to the casting – Jennifer Ehle is great (one of the best things in the suddenly relevant Contagion) and Morfydd Clark is a cool presence too. And it’s great to see a film carried by two women (and directed by one to boot).

So, we begin. 

The film isn’t actually all out horror (at first).  It’s a pretty serious study of mental illness, with Morfydd Clark’s titular Maud suffering from a pretty serious case of what looks like psychosis. The film feels almost like a TV style character study for long periods, a good one, but not a classic horror (yet).

So it’s the study of her character – a loner with a mental illness, and a serious religious bent. She’s caring for Ehle’s character, who is close to death and requires Maud as a palliative care nurse.  Basically, a nurse who is there at ‘end of life’.

Ehle’s character has a wild side and comes from a dance /theatre / ballet background. She’s raging against the light, but seems to take a shine to Maud.

Of course, it all goes very wrong. And the way it goes wrong is both bleak and depressing.  Scarborough in winter looks like one dark cloud sitting over a freezing black sea, and the atmosphere in this film is excellent, partly because of the bleakness of the location.  

As the story begins to wind down, Maud’s illness increases and we get to see her version of reality (the illness), as well as what’s actually happening.

In the last five minutes of the film, the horror does come. It comes quickly, and abruptly before the end titles.

In that last five minutes it’s one of the best horror films around – but it’s about not about the supernatural anymore. It’s about mental health. And it’s terrifying.

Matthew Cooper has been a scriptwriter for hire, UK Script editor  and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award-winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. His UK script coverage service, Script reading service and script development service are highly sought after.

You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham was released in 2020. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.